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When writing this letter, Miss Beeton turned to a classic manual on courtly love, eloquence and compliments.  She included a poem that was originally composed to an imprisoned Lady.  She intended it to cheer Sir Walter’s chilly heart, but now fears that it might be interpreted as emasculating. This, of course was not what she intended.  Learned readers, we leave it for you to judge.

To the right worshipful Sir Walter Really, our much esteemed colleague and friend,

I must confess that Miss Wagner and I were taken aback by your latest correspondence.  You painted such a pitiful picture of your circumstances, that I was momentarily at a loss for how to respond.

In my confusion, I turned to the writings of Edward Phillips, author of The Beau’s Academy, or the Modern and Genteel way of Wooing and Complementing after the most Courtly Manner, in which is drawn to Life the Deportment of most Accomplished Lovers, the Mode of their Courtly Entertainments, the charm of their Persuasive Language, in their Addresses, or more Secret Dispatches (1699).  Poor Edward does tend to waffle on a bit, but he helpfully includes the following verse, addressed to an imprisoned Lady, which seemed to be most suitable to your current predicament:

Look out bright eyes and clear the air

even in shadows you are fair

Caged beauty is like fire

that breaks out clear still and higher

Though the body be confin’d

and though Love a prisoner bound

Yet the beauty of your mind

neither check nor chain hath found

Look out nobly then and dare

Even the fetters that you wear.

Miss Wagner and I hope that these sentiments warm your prison cell and steady your exhausted hand.

Please do not despair, for whatever happens, Miss Wagner and I will remain your most faithful correspondants.

We would be happy to receive word from you, whether to reminisce on your past achievements, or to lighten the pain of your imprisonment.

We remain, as always,

Your faithful and devoted servants in correspondence

Ethel May Beeton

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My dear Miss Beeton,

I was sorry to see you distressed by your accountant’s suggestion that owning a property and earning a hefty salary are the most important things in life.

In my experience, apparent ‘commonsense’ can in fact be tyranny, that stifling oppression of the status quo.

In those sometimes interminable hours sorting mail together in the DLO, I’ve come to know you intimately. What’s right for your accountant is NOT right for Ethel May. How is it that you did not perceive this immediately, since you usually see so clearly, and judge so correctly?

A good life is about having something to love, something to do (that you enjoy) and something to look forward to. These principles are from a somewhat dubious self-help book, but they resonated with me.

You are lucky in that you have someone to love – dear old Ebenezer is just such a rock. I suspect, and think you will concur, that the real source of your discontent is that it is time for you to move on from the DLO.

Admittedly, we’ve had some good times here. Remember those wonderful, personal letters we used to pore over – love, compassion, envy, even hatred – the full gamut of human emotions right there, on the page? It was so enervating. These days, we only deal in cold, hard correspondence; bills, advertisements, requests for donations. Ultimately unsatisfying, and moreover, there’s often little to do. For women who were bought up by the rule that idle hands lead to idle work, it’s incredibly frustrating.

I think we must both find a job where our considerable talents and invaluable experience are both appreciated and amply rewarded.  Now we’ve turned our minds to it, let’s apply our efforts without delay. It is a challenge we are more than capable of meeting.

Here’s to us, Miss Beeton.

And I remain, as always, your affection friend, & c –

Miss Dolores Wagner

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Miss Beeton and Miss Wagner would love to invite you to a genteel letter-writing workshop.  Please do come along!

Dear fellow letter-writers, supporters and friends,

Ethel May Beeton and Dolores Wagner are proud to announce that their up-coming letter-writing workshop has been profiled in the Heidelberg Leader. We trust that the accompanying image does not make us appear overly stern. We remain, as always, firm but kind.

We would love you to join us on 28 and 29 August 2010 at Ivanhoe Library for the Lost Arts Festival. Our workshops will commence at 11am and 3pm on Saturday and 2pm and 4pm on Sunday. Stationery, pens, postbox, and a genteel environment conducive to letter-writing, will all be provided. Do come if you can!

There are many other worthy offerings at the Lost Arts Festival. The full program is here: http://www.banyule.vic.gov.au/Assets/Files/2855%20BAN%20LArts%20program_JUL26b.pdf

We remain, dear friends, yours truly.

Ethel May Beeton and Dolores Wagner

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Miss Beeton hereby revokes the doubts she cast on the character of Mr Lawrie.  It appears that he is indeed a true gentleman.

My dearest Miss Beeton

I poured for some days over whether I might risk being so forward as to write to you as ‘my dear Eth-May’.

However, my fear of being seen as perhaps too forward, too presumptious, too un-gentlemanly outweighed my intense desire to become quite informal with you.

You see, Miss Beeton, this last little while has seen me quite overwhelmed at times with your passion for the world around us.  So, without further hesitation, I am singularly delighted to indeed confirm that you too hold a special place in my heart.

I have barely an inch of your artistic talents, Miss Beeton, but as a humble response to your most fetching portraiture, I offer you the below representation.

Yours Always

Ebenezer Fortescue Lawrie

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My dear friend Beatrice,

It has been many months since I have put pen to paper. My neglect springs from distraction, not indolence. The brain tends to become crowded with the trivial matters of everyday life, so that one forgets to honour those most dear to them. But Beatrice, rest be assured that you and your dear family are never far from my heart. I am told that your studies are going marvellously, and that Edward’s band are making quite a name for themselves. I hope the acclaim will crush the doubts of those Argus-eyed social critics who disapprove of your family’s ascetic lifestyle, which is but a natural consequence of the impecunious yet noble professions adopted by yourself and Edward. And young Cynthia? Such a fair maiden. No doubt she grows more beautiful by the day, so it will not be long before you have to hide her away entirely to protect her from the clamouring of eager suitors.

I am just returned from a skiing expedition to Lake Mountain. To get there, we passed the areas worst affected by the Black Saturday bushfires. This included Marysville, a former holiday town, where you can see caravans on blocks of vacant land and petrol signs with no petrol station in sight – it had been burnt entirely to the ground. They are now are doing their best to rebuild, some of the population have moved back, and a few buildings have been rebuilt. I caught my breath at the rows of skeletal trees silhouetted on the mountain ridge, recognising the image which has been pictured in countless newspaper articles about the fires.

Lake Mountain that day had a still and ethereal beauty; steel-blue sky draped in wrathes of mist, fields of snow, black twisted trees with clumps of white clinging precariously to their limbs. There were newly emerging shoots of green; even ferns poking out from underneath snow in some places. It must be difficult for those who lost families and homes in the bushfires to be constantly confronted with these physical reminders, not only of their loss, but also of the seemingly oblivious momentum of new life.

I have always considered skiing to be somewhat of an elite sport; a little like scuba diving. The expense and complexity of the equipment seems a little at odds with the idea of being at one with nature.  But I found it exhilarating. Cross country skiing (perhaps as opposed to ‘downhill’ skiing) feels like a bush walk; so in that sense, our expedition was more about being out amongst that unique environment rather than chasing thrills.

As you know Beatrice, I am very uncoordinated, and unskilled at using tools. I believe skis count as tools. I fell over many, many times, so that I am now incredibly sore, with little hope of a swift recovery. My dear friend Miss Beeton, who was the one who kindly invited me on the trip, was actually very accomplished. She did not fall over once, in fact, I began to think of her as an ice princess. She and her friends were also very patient with me. When we started the trip, we had to go uphill, and I could not move at all. I was actually very worried as I thought I would hold the whole party up. But Miss Beeton gave me a swift lesson, and pretty soon I got the hang of it.

Indeed, my companions were so kind, they even furnished me with food and drink of the highest quality. Home made Anzac biscuits, apple muffins, vegetable soup, and hot tea. I was very impressed with their culinary skills. As Miss Beeton pointed out to me, it reminds one of how essential food is, and how important it is to be prepared before venturing out into the wilderness.

The last half hour of our trip was difficult for me. Up until then, I had been moving along nicely. All of a sudden, my energy levels flagged, but most of the last bit was downhill, and we also had to rush in order to get the skis back on time. At this stage, I found it impossible to avoid careering wildly down the hill, completely out of control, and plunged headfirst into the snow several times to avoid hitting little children, who by the way, were mostly far more competent than me (I think it is much easier to learn these things as a youngster). It was tough, and I felt like giving up, like sleeping in the snow. But Miss Beeton told me that if I were to fall asleep, I might die there. So I kept going, and did in the end make it.

Although weary, we had many lively conversations in the car on the way home. The following topics were covered: freemasonry, Terry Pratchett, ‘Snuggies’ (electric blankets that keep  you warm during winter), consumerism, whether Formula One creates incentives for environmentally efficient technologies, whether penalties should be tougher for those who kill strangers as opposed to people they know, the proliferation of new technologies and whether they’re actually making life easier, the fact that Hungry Jacks is better than Macdonalds, whether people should wear bike helmets, whether discriminatory advertising against women should be restricted, and whether Australia is a nanny state. Beatrice, you would have offered unique insights into these matters and I wish you were there to be part of our discussion. However, we can add them to our itinerary for discussion in the next few weeks when I visit you in Perth. I am so looking forward to that.

I have one last story for you, Beatrice. On the way to the ski fields, we stopped in Healesville at Beechworth Bakery (a stalwart Victorian chain). There, we were lucky enough to see our Premier, the Honourable John Brumby, who ordered a vanilla slice. My companions suggested that the Premier’s arrival was our cue to leave, so we did. Many young folk here are not overly taken with Mr Brumby and his style of leadership. In fact, when upon arriving home from our expedition, I told my lady love I had run into Mr Brumby, she told me I should have given him a ‘wedgie’. She even suggested he would be wearing spiderman underpants. While I was most shocked at these improper comments, and blush to repeat them to you, they certainly illustrate the depth of dissatisfaction with our gentleman premier.

Thanks for reading this overly long epistle and I hope it has not bored you. I know though, that you, out of anyone, are most likely to dedicate time to digesting such a tome, for I am, after all, your old and dear, albeit neglectful friend.  

Lots of love from that very same friend,

Dolores Wagner

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